By Matt Jenkins
SALEM — Bates Elementary School had a few special guests yesterday morning to offer tips on how to live with healthier eating and exercise habits.
Boston Celtics guard Rajon Rondo and forward Brandon Bass joined strength and conditioning coach Bryan Doo and team mascot Lucky in the school's Peter Doyle Gymnasium to discuss the best ways to stay fit.
Bates hosted the Celtics representatives after winning the Covidien "Fit to Win" Sweepstakes. Students from the school submitted their favorite tips for ways to stay healthy, and they were chosen from more than 400 applicants online.
"We enjoy getting up early in the morning and coming out here to support the kids and showing them that other people care and showing them what it takes to stay fit," Rondo said. "We were pretty active as young kids and want to show them that it's not all about video games."
Rondo, Bass, Doo, Lucky and Teresa Hacunda, Covidien's director of civic affairs, were introduced one by one to the crowd. Lucky did a backflip when he got in front of the Bates students, while Doo and later Rondo each cartwheeled into the gym.
After taking their places, the quintet fielded questions about their eating habits and their favorite ways to stay active.
Doo showed the students one of the playful exercises he uses with the Celtics: a modified game of tag that includes a basketball and two trash cans. He then selected four Bates School volunteers to play the game against himself, Rondo, Bass and Lucky.
"I mix it up (with the Celtics). They never know (what exercises) are coming, and, for the most part, they're all pretty good about it," Doo said. "Sometimes they look at me a little funny, but I try to take it back to when they were kids and make it fun for them."
Lucky put on a quick dunk show for the students using his trampoline, which concluded with an assisted dunk by Bates Principal Thomas LaValley.
From there, the group headed to Bailey Malone's third-grade class for a fruit kabob-building contest. Judged by Rondo, Bass, Doo, Lucky and Hacunda, the four groups of students ended up in a four-way tie — and everyone in the class received tickets to an upcoming Celtics game as a result.
"I hope this pays off ... if not for everyone, then I hope it touches someone," Rondo said. "I never had a chance to meet someone of my stature or Brandon's stature when I was a kid, so we want to give back to the community in any way possible.
"Even though we're coming off a really, really bad loss (Wednesday night against Philadelphia), it's nice to wake up today and do something for these kids. It really puts a smile on my face."
Bass, a powerful forward who has quickly found his niche in his first year with the Celtics, echoed Rondo's statement.
"I'm grateful to be recognized by kids who look up to us, because we were once those kids and had those dreams of playing in the NBA," Bass said. "To be appreciated by people and these kids is the best feeling."
According to Covidien, almost one-third of all children in Massachusetts schools are overweight or obese. It's a fact that Covidien, a health care products company based in Mansfield, wants to help change.
"Anything we can do to help children bring the message home to their families," Hacunda said. "Eating fruits and vegetables and drinking water is so important. The incidents of diabetes and heart disease as people get older is becoming more and more of a problem. If we can catch them younger, then that would bode well for everybody.
"They're not going to listen to me, but people like these guys have a message, and they're successful."